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An amendment proposed by Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, allows Minnesotans to extend their current four-year driver’s license expiration dates for a small fee if they apply for a Real ID early. (File photo)
An amendment proposed by Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, allows Minnesotans to extend their current four-year driver’s license expiration dates for a small fee if they apply for a Real ID early. (File photo)

In the Hopper: Real ID; provisional ballots; ignition interlock

Real ID signed: With the proverbial elephant having stepped into another room, the Legislature finally passed Real ID with no statutory ban on undocumented immigrants getting driver’s licenses.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill Thursday.

“I am very pleased that the Legislature has finally passed this critical bipartisan measure, which will allow Minnesotans to continue to board airplanes and access federal facilities with a compliant driver’s license,” Dayton said in a written statement.

However, the undocumented immigrant provision that stalled the bill’s progress has a potential afterlife. While a freeze on administrative rulemaking—the issue at the root of the controversy—was extracted from the Real ID bill, it was transplanted into the public safety-judiciary omnibus bill late in the conference committee process.

Dayton vetoed that bill along with all the major finance bills sent his way, but negotiations toward a balanced budget are expected to continue after a pause Thursday. So it is possible the provision could survive as part of a compromise budget.

Possible, but perhaps not likely. Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, a member of the Real ID conference committee that approved the bill on May 16, believes the provision is well and truly dead. “It’s not coming back,” she said.

Asked late Wednesday after the latest budget negotiations collapsed whether he agreed, Dayton demurred. He said he would not comment on any particular policy provisions enfolded into the GOP budget bills, he said.

The Real ID bill was approved by its conference committee Monday with several late amendments. One of those, proposed by Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, allows Minnesotans to extend their current four-year driver’s license expiration dates for a small fee, if they apply for a Real ID early.

If a card holder with a 2019 expiration date comes in a year early, he or she would receive a five-year Real ID license after paying a $2 surcharge. If the cardholder applies two years early, he or she would get a six-year license for $4 fee, and so on.

The law also includes a repealer that allows Minnesota to abandon Real ID and revert to standard licenses if the federal government alters the Real ID’s purpose or eligibility requirements.

“I think we have a good bill here,” the bill’s author, Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake. “This is something that Minnesotans expected us to get done.”

The bill represents “the best of bipartisanship,” said Rest. “I think it shows that when the majority party needs a little help from the minority party, we can come through.”

Pratt said it will cost $3.279 million to implement the program in Minnesota.

The Senate adopted the conference committee’s report and re-passed the bill 57-8 on Wednesday. The House also adopted the report and re-passed the bill Wednesday, in 122-11 vote.

 

Provisional ballots: By a 34-33 vote, the Senate Monday passed an elections omnibus bill that would introduce provisional ballots to Minnesota.

What Senate File 514 lacks, however, is gubernatorial support. Well before it cleared the Senate floor, Dayton said he would veto it.

Its author, Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said that the bill is designed to increase voter turnout, in part by standardizing election dates and times throughout the state. It would also require counties to set a fixed number polling locations by Dec. 31 of each year and leave them unaltered throughout the year.

The bill also would provide $5 million in matching funds to help local election officials procure updated equipment, including electronic poll books and updated “optical scan-assisted technologies,” Kiffmeyer said.

Opponents on the Senate floor all but ignored those improvements as they blasted Kiffmeyer for attempting to introduce provisional ballots to Minnesota.

As she described them, provisional ballots would weed out ineligible voters who show up at polling places to cast illegal votes. The current system allows voters whose eligibility is questioned to self-certify. Officials then investigate their claim after the election. If found to be lying, they can be criminally charged.

The new system would also allow challenged voters—ineligible felons, legally declared mental incompetents and non-citizens—to vote, but only with provisional ballots. Those would be filled out and set aside until the voter’s eligibility is reviewed by election authorities up to seven days later.

Secretary of State Steve Simon said earlier this year that provisional ballots would create “a maybe pile” of votes in Minnesota that might get counted, or might not.

Kiffmeyer said they are needed to protect eligible voters’ right not to be disenfranchised by illegally tallied votes. “My goal here is that we protect the access of those who do have the right to vote, and fight for that very hard,” she said.

Several DFL senators said the measure would create new barriers to voter access, leading to scenes of public humiliation and voter intimidation.

“It is a horrible bill,” said Sen. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview. “I don’t think it makes Minnesota any better. This bill just seeks to stop people from voting.”

Kiffmeyer acknowledged during floor debate that Minnesota’s voter participation rate is consistently among the best in the nation. But she seemed to suggest that therein lay evidence of Minnesota’s flawed election system.

“There is no other state that has Minnesota’s openness in regards to access,” she said. “No other country in the world has this level of access. Balancing that with integrity is a fair thing to do.”

The bill awaits a House vote.

 

Ignition interlock: A judge’s order will be required for vendors to switch on ignition interlock systems’ geo-tracking functions, if a bill that passed the House unanimously Monday becomes law.

The bill, authored by Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, was prompted by controversy that blew up late last year after it was learned the Department of Public Safety used its expedited rule-making authority to authorize GPS tracking on the devices.

Ignition interlocks are offered to convicted drunken drivers who want to retain their driving privileges. They blow into a tube and if alcohol is detected, the car won’t start. Scott has maintained that they were never intended to be used to track users.

“This bill basically says that the department cannot allow tracking of individuals through these devices unless there is a court order,” Scott said.

The bill also rescinds the waiver that gave the department expedited rulemaking authority to get the program up and running. The waiver was granted when the program launched in 2010.

“That’s one of the ways where we got where we are right now,” Scott said. “There wasn’t enough sunshine on the process.”

Scott said judges will determine at the time of sentencing whether a drunken driver is such a risk to public safety that GPS tracking is warranted.

Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, supported the bill. She said it became acceptable when a provision that would have required the department to approach the Legislature with any future rulemaking changes was dropped.

The Senate was set to take up the bill Thursday afternoon, after this story’s deadline.

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